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George V Gold Freedom Casket Comes Home to Newport
The casket, with enamel panels showing St Paul’s National School, Commercial Street, Newport Harbour, St Paul’s Church and the GWR Chepstow Castle steam locomotive, will now be on display in Newport Museum.
LONDON.- A gift presented to a remarkable Newport-born trade unionist and politician has found a home in the city thanks to the generous support of the Art Fund and the V&A Purchase Grant Fund.

The George V Gold Freedom Casket was given to James Henry Thomas in 1924 by friends when he was made a freeman of Newport.

It was purchased for £26,000 and was successfully acquired by Newport City Council.

The casket, with enamel panels showing St Paul’s National School, Commercial Street, Newport Harbour, St Paul’s Church and the GWR Chepstow Castle steam locomotive, will now be on display in Newport Museum.

Councillor Mike Hamilton, cabinet member for leisure and culture, said: “It is most fitting that this piece of history will now be on display in Newport, the birthplace of the man who received it.

“His life was not without its controversy but he served his country and was known for his humour, courage and humanity.

“We are very grateful to the V&A Purchase Grant Fund and the Art Fund for making this acquisition possible and I look forward to many people visiting Newport Museum in John Frost Square to visit this and other treasured items we are so fortunate to possess.”

Stephen Deuchar, director of the Art Fund, said: “We’re really pleased to have helped make this auction acquisition possible. By putting it on display, visitors will be able to learn more about a fascinating character in Newport’s history. We also hope that people will enjoy looking at the local scenes depicted on the casket, which offer a glimpse of Newport’s landscape almost 90 years ago.”

Mr Thomas was born to an unmarried mother and was brought up by his grandmother. He left school at 12 and at 15 was working as an engine cleaner on Great Western Railways. Three years later he passed his fireman’s exams.

He became an officer of the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants and in 1913 helped to organize the National Union of Railwaymen. He was made general secretary in 1917 and presided over the rail strike of 1919.

He was elected to parliament as Labour MP for Derby in 1910 and when his party was in power served as Secretary of State for the Colonies, Lord Privy Seal and Secretary of State for the Dominions.

Mr Thomas retained this position after he agreed to become a member of Ramsay MacDonald’s controversial National Government in 1931, a decision which led to his expulsion from the Labour Party and the NUR.

He was elected as an independent MP by the people of Derby in 1935 and was Secretary of State for the Colonies until being forced to resign when he was implicated in leaks about the forthcoming budget.

He retired to the Sussex coast and died in 1949. He was remembered for being an effective speaker and translating his homeliness into an asset.

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